Fortunately, I only had one panic-filled moment when the kitchen filled with smoke after not hearing the timer, but miraculously the smoke alarm did not go off. I'm not sure if it's because we furiously fanned at it with all the pot holders and junk mail we had available or because we were just lucky, but I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Note: a stack of junk mail is much more effective in my anxiety-fueled hands than silicone pot mitts on my husband's awkwardly flailing hands...I'm not sure his heart was in it. Probably because he wasn't as concerned as I was. I had visions of the fire department descending upon our house and us not being able to explain, no, there is no real danger, we just suck at baking. Would you like the charred remnants of what was supposed to be a cookie, officer?
At any rate, we ended up making a bunch of cookies, enough of which were acceptable to put in gift bags the next day. I carefully Google-translated some phrases for a note to better explain what we were doing, anticipating verbal confusion on both sides at the handoff. Here is what I wrote, plus what I hope it says. No kanji, because I can't read it yet, and the words are only spaced apart like this in children's picture books, but at least I'm trying, right?
ごめんなさい、わたしたちは にほんご すこし はなせます。
We're sorry, we are able to speak little Japanese.
こちらは ピーナッツバタークッキ です。おたのしみ ください。
These are peanut butter cookies. Please enjoy.
メリークリスマス と しんえん あけまして おめでとーごさいます。
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
First stop was the day care, but nobody was home. Or came to the door, anyway. I'll try again later, during daylight hours.
Next stop, neighbor across the street. All the houses on our street have gates and almost all have video doorbells, so it felt like we had to say some secret password or to audition to be able to give this gift. We pretty badly mangled, "I'm sorry, we don't speak much Japanese, but we are your neighbors and we have a present for you," but the sweet old lady was curious enough to come out and open the gate to see what we were about. We managed a few sentences, like "I'm sorry, I have no idea what you just said," and "Yes, we made these ourselves," and we learned that her husband speaks more English than she does but (was still at work?). I think she might have been hard on herself about not having anything for us in return, but I wasn't sure if I understood her correctly and I don't have the vocabulary to explain that we're just trying to be nice, we don't expect anything in return. Plus, we really should have given neighbor gifts when we first moved in.
Third stop, the remaining neighbor. We said something like, "we are the neighbors, this is a present," and she said "No thank you." I didn't know you could do that. And I'm not sure how hurt or offended we should be...does it mean they don't like us? Or we presented ourselves badly and they didn't get what we were trying to say? Did they think we were selling something? Is that the socially accepted way to not get into one of those gift-giving wars I've read about? I don't know, but my feelings are more hurt than they probably should be.
We dropped off another bag at the koban on the way to the eki (train station) on our way to Shinjuku. That went pretty well, although it took a couple tries to explain that we were giving it to everyone there, not dropping it off for a specific person.
Our friend wasn't home yet, so we went to a ramen-ya for dinner, one of those places with the vending machine ordering system where you feed it money, hit the button for which meal you want, and give the ticket to the girl behind the counter, who magically produces that food in less time than it should reasonably take to create a hot meal. We accidentally ordered takeout (it was one of two big flashing kanji buttons and we hit the wrong one), so we felt obligated to leave with it instead of unpacking everything on the table. So we wandered for about a block and found an area with stone benches. Luckily, Tokyo at the end of the year isn't nearly as cold as it is on the east coast of the US right now, so this wasn't so bad. After dinner, our friend was home, we dropped off the cookies and chatted a bit, then headed to Tokyo Dome City to see the light display. Those lights will be the next post as soon as I organize all the pictures and video clips.